If J.T. Thomas had to name four major differences between the Giants and his former team, the Jaguars, all he'd need do is stroll to the lobby of the Giants' headquarters to look at them. There they stand, all in a row, shining in their glory. The Lombardi Trophies.
There are other differences, of course. Thomas is here as a starter, which he wasn't always in Jacksonville. He has a defined position instead of floating around the linebacker group, too. But most of all, Thomas knows that the Giants, despite being unable to reach the playoffs in any of the last three seasons, have a chance this season.
In Jacksonville last year, no matter how bright-eyed he and the other Jaguars tried to be in training camp, they had to recognize that they were a team with a very small chance of succeeding.
It's a difficult reality to go up against.
"There are always two ways to look at things and I think that's a choice that the players and the coaches are allowed to make," Thomas said of either embracing a positive attitude or a defeatist one. "We were optimistic last year in Jacksonville. Of course we didn't make it to where we all want to make it to. But here, playing under a coach who has been there and knows what it takes to get there, of course there's a different approach and higher expectation."
The Giants may have had disappointing seasons the last two years, but Jacksonville has been worse. In two seasons there, Thomas and the Jaguars were a combined 7-25. One of the few highlights for both during that time was a win over the Giants last November. That was one of the lowest points for this franchise in the 10 seasons under Tom Coughlin, but it was a showcase for Thomas. He had a career-high 12 tackles and recovered a fumble by Eli Manning in the end zone for a touchdown to spark a second-half comeback.
Thomas, 27, started 10 games last season, nine of them at middle linebacker. But he was often called out of that role to play on the outside.
"Last year it was good to be able to adapt to a few different positions, it made me a better player in the game," he said. "Now I'm using some of those things that I learned from playing multiple positions in one position. It's truly going to help me going forward."
Having that position stability has been key for Thomas.
"Here, starting off knowing exactly where Coach wants me and having my role on the team a little bit more laid out, I know exactly what there is that's expected of me," he said.
Giants linebackers coach Jim Herrmann said he is pleased with Thomas' range, athleticism and speed. He also likes the versatility of playing against the run or having to cover a tight end.
"That's really what you see out of those types of guys, they can walk out on a guy and not feel uncomfortable," Herrmann said. "That's what you get."
Thomas is looking forward to facing his former team in Saturday's preseason game. "There will be a heightened sense of urgency," he said. He said he wants to "get after it a bit" with fellow linebacker LaRoy Reynolds on special teams and compete against quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Denard Robinson. After the game they'll likely hug and shake hands and then go their separate ways, both physically and within the season. Expectations may not be sky-high for the Giants this season, but they surely are higher and more realistic than those saddled on the Jaguars.
"All teams are different throughout the league," said Thomas, who played his first two seasons with the Bears primarily as a special teamer. "The Jaguars, last year when I was with them, I think they were in the process of building their foundation. Here, that's already been established. We're expected to live up to that standard, that Giant expectation. The two organizations are in two totally different positions right now."
And Thomas feels as if he is in the better of the two.